What we want isn’t always what we need, is it? The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith. He told them not to worry about it. All they needed was a mustard seed’s worth. He told another parable about a foolish person who built a huge grain silo only to die the very night when it was finished. Continue reading
You know that sort of article that seems a bit off to you, but when you try to put your finger on why, you can’t quite find anything particularly wrong or egregious? I just read one of those a few days ago. It’s by a guy named Carey Nieuwhof and it’s about how going to church no longer makes sense. I agree with every point he makes.
St. Brigid of Kildare, whose feast is today, is the unofficial patron of Brent House, my spiritual home at the University of Chicago and my sponsoring community in the ordination process. Patroness of scholars, brewers, and dairy workers, defender of peasants, ascetic for the sake of joy, and worker of delightfully over-the-top miracles. Like Brent House, a symbol of everything good in the world.
The story is told that she once asked the king for land on which to build a monastery (which would have also been what we would call a community center). The king in question was more concerned with his own revenue than with his communities, so she told him that she only needed as much land as her cloak could cover. After he agreed, she threw her cloak on the ground and it covered the whole county. A reminder of who the land really belongs to, and what it’s for.
Now the United States of America is a bit bigger than Kildare, but that makes no difference to God. Thanks everyone, for all the ways you are reminding our worthless leaders whose this land is, and what it’s for. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves while you’re at it. Drink a beer, if you can do safely, and eat some ice cream or cheese. We also resist what is evil by celebrating and sharing what is joyful.
O God, by whose grace your servant Brigid, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Collect for Feast of St. Brigid)
And check out this beautiful icon from the Church of St. Brigid in Kildare. Follow the link to learn more about it and about her.
Donald Trump is trying to take away our humanity. He is doing this by cutting us off from one another. But Jesus came to make us divine by making us fully human, which requires us to share a commitment to a common world and a common conversation with one another, no matter how strange our voices sound to each other. Look what Trump is doing: he is impeding communication, and thus communion. Whether it be by silencing government employees, defunding humanistic research, building his wall, or blocking immigration and denying asylum. He tells his lies about groups of people so that we will not be able to talk to them or listen to them, and he does it expertly–the Lord rebuke him!
But all it takes to resist Trump is what those of us who are committed to the Gospel are going to do anyway: we have to refuse division and create communion. When Trump cuts off channels of communication, we have to open new ones. What this means concretely depends on where you are and who you are. But one thing we can all do is pray, including (especially!) for our enemies.
I am currently working on an article that is partly on Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. I was despairing about its relevance or usefulness to our present struggles when I came across this in one of my secondary sources:
Communication is a necessary condition for community; but direct communication between human minds, a transparency of mutual understanding, is not possible in the fallen human condition. Language arises from the conflict of this impossibility with the natural human need for community…For Augustine semantic activity–understanding and communicating through language–was the index of the human need for transcendence in the most general terms: for union with other minds in the very act of understanding a shared world.
-Robert Markus, Signs and Meanings: World and Text in Ancient Christianity (Liverpool University Press, 1996), pp. 110-11
But as Augustine explains in De doctrina and elsewhere, to put a short-circuit what other people and other things mean is to defy the very work of the Incarnation. It is a false judgment that loves and regards others as having no value. It cuts us off from them and them from the beauty and goodness of the whole creation. To use Augustine’s words, it is to fail to see them and thus ourselves as signs.
So the good news: Jesus has already undone what Trump is trying to do. Pentecost undid Babel. Just as we can pray for each other even we really don’t like or understand one another, we can also commit to seeing ourselves as part of the same conversation. For anyone to attain the transcendence which Augustine diagnoses as the basic desire behind all of our communication, we need every human being in on the conversation. This does not mean that we all speak the same language or say the same things. When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, the first Christians did not all start speaking the same language. They started speaking every language.
The fullness of conversation is something that will have to emerge amidst all the tensions, failures, and misunderstandings of our glorious cacophony. But to invoke one more Augustinian conviction, there is another voice speaking behind and through ours, enabling understanding to emerge. It is the “light that enlightens all peoples,” the Word of God.
God’s word is not chained. So don’t despair, and don’t believe the lies. Call your representatives, find a march to attend, invite someone different from you to coffee. And for the love of God, pray! Trump may have invoked God in his inauguration speech, but he has actually declared open warfare on everything God is trying to do. He will fail. He will go the way of Nebuchadnezzar and Nero. He may be saved, but his works will lie in ruin. Sad.
Fetal Heartbeat bills have been making the rounds in conservative states since about 2011. Such bills restrict abortion to the period of time prior to the fetus having a heartbeat. If a heartbeat can be detected, then abortion is illegal. These bills have been proposed in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and Wyoming. None of these bills have successfully become law, but in the wake of Trump’s election, the Ohio state legislature decided to test the waters: The House and Senate of that state passed the bill and sent it to the governor. He vetoed it–knowing it would not stand up in court as long as Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land. Continue reading
Organ transplantation as a process has many players and a lot of moving parts. For example, there is the donor and the donor’s family, the recipient and family, social workers, pharmacists, myriad specialists, surgeons, and the national, regional, and local governing bodies that procure and allocate organs. All of these moving parts lead to significant specialization on the parts of the players involved, while also creating openings for ethical problems at every step in the process. There are questions about who gets listed to get an organ, how they pay for it, where the organ comes from, who isn’t getting the organ, are regions getting similar numbers or organs….I could continue listing questions for paragraphs, but I want to hone in on one question in particular: How are the bodies of donors and recipients conceptualized in this medical setting.
This post starts off talking about babies, but it’s really about prisons and what you can do about them. Actionable items at the end!
Having a baby is an emotional roller coaster, even when you’re not the one whose body was playing host. When our twins were born six weeks early in January, one was in the NICU for one week, one for three. Shortly after the first came home, they moved the little one to a different part of the hospital for babies who were considered low-risk. We did not think much of the low-risk part of the NICU. The main part was a much more loving environment. There were more babies, more family members, and it seemed to us, more attention from the very gifted nurses. The low-risk ward seemed very much like an afterthought. It was a converted patient room on the recovery floor with six or seven babies in incubators tended by two nurses. With a few notable exceptions, we did not find them to be as good as the nurses in the main ward. There were fewer family members coming and going. It seemed that our little baby was just in a glass cage all day, except when we were able to come take him out. I speak of how it seemed, not of how it was. Objectively, the care he received was perfectly adequate. Continue reading
During my final year at Stanford, our newly appointed police chief died suddenly and without warning. Chief Marvin Moore was the first African American to hold the position. I found the officers devastated when I went to visit the department and offered whatever help I could. It had been their good fortune that they never lost a serving officer in or out of the line of duty for as long as anyone could remember.
One of the reasons I have not said more about last week’s carnage is that, at the moment, my most charitable response is restraint. You see, a few weeks ago, when I finally got the physical strength to visit my ailing father in the nursing home in Cleveland, I was stopped by a police officer for no apparent reason–other than perhaps a Soundex algorithm gone awry. (Google it.) I pulled up into a gas station so that he would not have to stand in traffic and rolled down the window. He yelled, at the top of his lungs, “ARE YOU DRUNK? SHOW ME YOUR LICENSE AND PROOF OF INSURANCE. WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
I’ve got several blog posts in progress: two on transplant ethics and one on Between the World and Me, but as you can imagine, today I am thinking about the police, with whom I had only had neutral and positive experiences until Thursday night. And even to claim that experience as mine is pretty far-fetched. It is probably best to call it a glimpse of police intrusions into daily life that I have been shielded from. That being said, I was present, and it made me uncomfortable, and it made me feel less safe. So what happened?
We had dinner plans with a friend. We went to one of our favorite restaurants, which happens to have bad acoustics, and it was very crowded. After we sat down, a non-white family with a small child sat near us. The little boy was about two years old, and he seemed pretty cranky. He let out several unhappy, loud wails; his parents tried appeasing him and comforting him, but he was not having it. The little boy was loud and disruptive to everyone’s meals, but the parents were parenting, and what else can you ask them to do? I felt bad for them.